Is Certification in One’s Nursing Specialty Really Necessary?

Download PDF

Avoiding Liability Bulletin – June 1, 2012

You may have been asked by your current employer, or questioned by a nurse colleague, if you are certified in your area of nursing practice.  You may wonder why anyone would question you about this, since you know that it is mostly voluntary except for advanced  practice nurses (APNs) in your state.  There is no doubt, though, that  post-initial education certification is becoming more and more important in today’s health care arena, whether voluntary or mandatory.

Certification is a process which recognizes that you have additional expertise in your area of practice other than what you learned while in your basic nursing educational program and beyond that which is required for initial licensure.  If you are an advanced practice nurse (APN), certification provides you with the credentials that your expertise is at an advanced level and, again, beyond that which you had when you graduated from your advanced practice educational program.

Certification is offered by professional nursing associations, such as the American Nephrology Nurses’ Association, the Association of periOperative Nurses, and the American Forensic Nurses.  To become certified, the successful completion of an exam is required, and most associations require continued examinations at fixed times to ensure that you are up-to-date with the latest clinical information in your specialty area.  Once certified, you can use your earned credential after your name.

For example, if your area of nursing specialty is as a diabetes educator, you would seek certification from the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators.  If you successfully passed the exam, you could use the credentials as follows: Mary Smith, RN, MS, CDE or  Mary Smith, RN, BSN, CDE, as examples

Advanced practice nurses in the U.S. are required to have earned a Master’s Degree and also some form of certification in their area of nursing practice in order to obtain a license as an advanced practice nurse and  in order to practice as an APN in that state. Because nurse practice acts vary, educational and certification  requirements are set by each  state board of nursing.

When you receive a license to practice as an APN  in a particular state, the credential used is regulated by the board of nursing as well.  For example, if  you  are a nurse-midwife, you r  credentials might read as follows: Mary Smith, R.N., M.S., CNM or Mary Smith,  R.N., APN, MS, CNM, as examples.

You may also seek certification from an academic institution after the completion of your Master’s Degree to expand your clinical area of expertise, further develop your management skills, or in anticipation of a role change.  Examples of post-Master’s certification  programs include informatics and health systems management.

So, why be certified, especially if you don’t need it and are not going to obtain an advanced practice license?  Isn’t your B.S. or M.S. enough?  Why voluntarily go through additional educational  and financial  hoops if you really don’t need certification to practice nursing?

For one, there are certain positions where certification is a minimum  requirement for applicants in those areas of nursing such as the CCU, the ICU and theED , where Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) certification is mandated.  This certification must be up-dated regularly.  

A second advantage of certification is that it distinguishes you as successfully achieving additional education in your area of nursing practice.  Employers often look for credentialed applicants because they know they provide quality care and are up-to-date on the latest clinical trends in their area of practice.

Third, some employers provide additional salary or a bonus when staff nurses complete credentialing. Credentialing also allows you to be more independent in seeking new jobs, or even in starting a clinical practice of your own.  

Certification associations also provide an excellent networking base for those whom they certify.  Convention and event information, educational programs, continuing education opportunities, job postings, blogs and a wealth of current information on nursing practice and standards of practice in your specialty area are available on the associations’ websites.

Certification is very important when it comes to the prevention of professional negligence.  Although there is no certain way to prevent becoming involved in a lawsuit or being named in a complaint by the state board of nursing , certification is a good risk management tool because it keeps you clinically current in your area of nursing practice.  Moreover, required additional testing to keep the certification provides constant up-dating  of  practice in your nursing specialty.

Think about the possibility of becoming certified in your area of practice.  If you already are certified, maintain that certification.  If you are an APN, be certain to keep your certification  current since your ability to continue to practice as an APN depends on it. As an APN, you may also want to consider a post-Master’s certification course for a population specialty role.

Risk management has many faucets and certification is just one way to try and avoid professional liability by providing quality nursing care and by obtaining additional expertise in your area of nursing practice.  

Nursing AL Blog - Get a Quote & Apply


Brown, C.G., Murphy, C.M. et al (2010).  “The Value Of Oncology Nursing Certification”,  

    Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing,  14(6), E63-E69.

Melander, S.D., Kleinpell, R.M. et al  (2008).  “Post-Master’s Certification Programs For Nurse

    Practitioners: Population Specialty Role Preparation”,  Journal of the American Academy of

    Nurse Practitioners, 20 (2), 63-68.

Neibhur, B. and Bell, M. (2002).  “The Value Of Specialty Nursing Certification”,  Nursing

      Outlook, 55(4), 176-181.

Wade, C.H. (2010).  “Perceived Effects Of Specialty Nurse Certification: A Review Of The

       Literature”,  Journal of Nursing Administration 40 (1), S5-S13.



Nancy Brent

Nancy Brent

Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, a nurse attorney in private law practice in Wilmette, IL, represents nurses and other health care providers before the state agency that regulates health professionals. Brent graduated from Loyola University of Chicago School of Law in 1981. Her experience prior to opening her private practice included a year of insurance defense for a major insurance company and establishing a law firm with two other attorneys. After three years of doing defense work at the firm, Brent decided to establish a private practice in 1986. Brent has published extensively and has lectured across the country in the area of law and nursing practice. She is a member of several legal and nursing professional associations, including the American Nurses Association, Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, the Illinois State Bar Association, and The American Association of Nurse Attorneys (TAANA).

Have Questions? click here, We’re happy to help!